Dogs Can Fly

In their high-brow, equestrian-heavy subdivision, Lawrence Frederick and his wife are known throughout the neighborhood as “the dog people.” It’s a distinction that has made neighbors of former Phillies’ pitcher Brett Myers and the ex-NFLer Laveranues Coles and carried them around the world with their world famous team of frisbee dogs.

Frederick was a frisbee champion in his own right before transitioning to training and performing with rescue dogs. In 1990, a knee injury forced Frederick to reevaluate his career options and think outside the box. He remembers the moment he shared his plans with a couple of fellow frisbee players following a big win at the Florida State Championship: “As I got a little older, my opportunities and my abilities in the human frisbee world were diminishing quickly because I didn’t have two good legs any longer. I had just won the master’s division and I said, ‘You know, I’ve made a decision that I’m going to stop doing overall competitions and I’m going to dedicate my time to performing with dogs’ and they both started laughing hysterically. They thought I was an idiot.”

Frederick has definitely had the last laugh and a successful second coming with Disc-Connected K9 Team. In 2009, his teammates shared their memories of Frederick’s career-changing milestone at an awards banquet. “They said, ‘He’s around the world winning all these world championships and entertaining all these people and we’re still struggling to get people to even recognize that we play frisbee.’”

Over the years, Frederick adopted hundreds of rescue dogs to match with their forever homes and create his dynamic team of frisbee champions. It’s a valuable opportunity for neglected and abandoned dogs to reach their full potential and enjoy a new lease on life with a loving family.

Clay CountyFrederick learns the personalities, moods, likes, and dislikes of each dog. When pairing a dog with a human/family during a process he refers to as “MATCH.DOG,” he asks potential families to submit a list of characteristics preferred for an ideal dog including gender, age, breed, size, whether it will be an indoor or outdoor dog, number of other pets, children, and whether  the dog votes Republican or Democrat (not really). “Some folks have been able to get a dog from us almost immediately, and then some have waited for up to six to eight months for the right canine companion,” says Frederick. Once a match is made, a meet and greet is staged to determine whether the dog is a correct fit.

“They’ve been on the outside. They’ve been cold, hungry, lonely, haven’t been loved, may have been ill or hurt at one time,” he says. “But once you bring them into your life, unlike people, they are eternally loyal and grateful for the love and the dedication and attention that we show them.”

When they aren’t performing, Frederick’s dogs enjoy the spoils that rescue dogs only dream of. They have the run of the horse-free horse farm. They swim, run, and play ball, always giving back the love that Frederick has shown to them.

RileyPamphlet“We have five-acre horse farm, but we don’t have any horses. They love to swim and we have a pond on our property that the dogs have full access to. We have two separate out buildings for them and an acre that they can run on. It’s all about trying to put other elements into their life so they’re more rounded.”

The dogs share different versions of the same sad beginnings, but their happily-ever-after is captured forever in the record books. The Disc-Connected K9 team has 16 World Frisbee Dog Championship Finalists, more than any other team in the history of the sport.

It’s also the only performing team with five different World Champion Dogs including three-time World Disc Dog Champion Harley Davidson, the 2010 Skyhoundz Disc Dog World Champion Flash, the 2012 Skyhoundz World Disc Dog Pairs Champion Spencer, the 2013 Skyhoundz World Disc Dog Pairs Champion Indigo, and the 2014 Skyhoundz Overall World Disc Dog Champion Zorra.

Flash is among the fastest dogs on the K9 team. She is a three time Florida State Distance Champion and has five World Finals appearances under her belt. She has twice anchored the only team of four dogs to compete in the World Finals at the same time with one human being. Flash became the 2010 Skyhoundz World Disc Dog Champion, tying the record for earning the most overall points in a World Finals. Jaxson came to Disc-Connected K9’s in December of 2009 after being rescued from the streets of Hialeah, FL. He finished 2nd overall in the Pairs Division of the 2010 World Championships.

“As much as we are still writing that book, the best rags-to-riches story would have to be my dog Harley Davidson. I adopted him when he was 17 months old. We were his seventh home in 17 months,” says Frederick. “He’s now a three-time World Champion and was just one of the greatest performers and competitors that was ever in the sport.”

Bonez Nebraska2015Frederick has developed scores of tricks for his dogs, each as unique as the performers themselves. They all have their individual skill set. Harley Davidson was known for his signature move, the Harley Knievel. “We would bring little kids out on the field and line them up. When I first started doing it, everybody in the frisbee dog world told me I was crazy for doing it. We started doing it and the crowds loved it,” he says. “The last question I would ask is are either of your parents lawyers? It became a signature part of our show. There’s people all over the world that are copying it.”

When considering a new team member, Frederick has a three point checklist to determine if the dog will make the cut. “First and foremost is what we call play drive. They are normally the psycho crazy dogs that will chase anything that’s moving that people really don’t like in their homes because they are just too full of energy. Obviously, athleticism is second, because a lot of dogs have a lot of play drive but because of their stature and physical limitations, we know that particular breed is not going to fit into our program and what we are trying to accomplish,” he says.

“Instead of taking a dog and trying to pigeonhole it into everything that we’ve developed to date, we call it jamming with the dog. We start doing things with them and start figuring out what they like to do. And you video tape it, you watch it, and you go, ‘That’s a cool move right there.’ Where can I put that into a routine? You are always trying to find more innovative stuff that you can do with the dogs to keep them interested. Also, as they get more physically adept with their eye-mouth coordination, their jumping, landing, muscle structure, it’s fun to start challenging them to do new things. And they like it because they’re not out there just doing the same boring routine every single day.”

11888027_1179500835410383_9064712178102274075_nFrederick says the animal’s social adaptability is an element that can be fostered in the right dog. “This is the one that we can train and work on. Whether they are people friendly and other dog friendly depending on the behavior characteristics that have exhibited,” says Frederick. “Age is important, but it’s not a deterrent. We try to find a dog that is under two years old to bring them onto our team because most dogs will take close to a year. Adult dogs take six to nine months. With a puppy you’ve got to have at least a full year with before you can bring them into the shows.”

Disc-Connected K9s is equal parts entertainment and therapy for Frederick, his talented team of dogs, and audiences alike. They compete across the United States and perform at international events, traveling as far as Italy, Spain, and Chile. In between competitions, Frederick trades tricks for smiles at children’s hospitals, assisted living facilities and other organizations. “It was out of necessity. I was trying to find other things that I could do with my dogs that would make them more well-rounded and be able to give back,” he says. “I started taking therapy dog classes in order to learn more about behavioral training. One thing led to another, and more doors kept opening for me.”

Frederick says he felt the full reach of his frisbee career while traveling with Disc-Connected K9’s in Bilboa, Spain, and not just in miles logged. Crossing a bridge en route to the Guggenheim Museum, he happened upon a couple playing ball with their dogs—a boxer, two Australian shepherds and a border collie. “So, I’m petting the dogs and asked if they did anything other than play ball and the lady said, ‘Well, the one you’re petting is a frisbee dog.’ She said her husband had competed a couple of times, so I reached in my pocket and took out one of my business cards,” says Frederick. “I went to hand it to her and she said, ‘Listen, we know who you are. My husband has watched your videos 400 times. I have been forced to watch your videos hundreds of times.’ Here we are in Bilboa, Spain, and these people knew exactly who I was. And that’s because of the internet and how big the sport has become. My reputation has preceded me throughout the world. That’s been a highlight for me. But you can’t go anywhere in the world and be a jerk, because you never know who is going to know you.”

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About Liza Mitchell